This is called genocide

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By Michael Löwy*

The neo-fascist Bolsonaro in the face of the pandemic

One of the most disturbing phenomena of recent years is the spectacular rise, all over the world, of extreme right-wing, authoritarian and reactionary governments, in some cases with neo-fascist traits: Shinzo Abe (Japan), Modi (India), Trump (USA), Orban (Hungary) and Bolsonaro (Brazil) are the best-known examples. It is not surprising that several of them reacted to the coronavirus pandemic in an absurd way, dramatically denying or downplaying the danger.

This was the case of Donald Trump in the first weeks, and of his English disciple, Boris Johnson, who went so far as to propose that the entire population be infected with the virus, in order to “collectively immunize” the entire nation – of course, with the cost of a few hundred thousand deaths... But in the face of the crisis, the two had to retreat, in the case of Boris Johnson, being seriously hit himself.

The case of Brazil thus becomes special, because the character of the Palácio da Alvorada persists in his “denial” attitude, characterizing the coronavirus as a “little flu”, a definition that deserves to enter the annals, not of medicine, but of political madness. But this madness has its logic, which is that of “neo-fascism”.

Neo-fascism is not a repetition of the fascism of the 1930s: it is a new phenomenon, with characteristics of the 21st century. For example, it does not take the form of a police dictatorship, it respects some democratic forms: elections, party pluralism, freedom of the press, existence of a Parliament, etc. Naturally, it tries, as far as possible, to limit these democratic freedoms as much as possible, with authoritarian and repressive measures. Nor does it rely on armed shock troops, as were the German SA or the Italian Fascio.

This also applies to Bolsonaro: he is neither Hitler nor Mussolini, and he does not even have as a reference the Brazilian version of fascism in the 1930s, the integralism of Plínio Salgado. While classic fascism advocated massive state intervention in the economy, Bolsonaro’s neo-fascism is totally identified with neoliberalism, and aims to impose a socioeconomic policy favorable to the oligarchy, without any of the “social” pretensions of old fascism.

One of the results of this fundamentalist version of neoliberalism is the dismantling of the Brazilian public health system (SUS), already weakened by the policies of previous governments. Under these conditions, the health crisis resulting from the spread of the coronavirus could have tragic consequences, especially for the poorest sections of the population.

Another characteristic of Brazilian neo-fascism is that, despite its ultranationalist and patriotic rhetoric, it is completely subordinate to American imperialism, from an economic, diplomatic, political and military point of view. This was also manifested in the reaction to the coronavirus, when Bolsonaro and his ministers were seen imitating Donald Trump, blaming the Chinese for the epidemic.

What Bolsonaro has in common with classic fascism is authoritarianism, the preference for dictatorial forms of government, the cult of the Boss (“Myth”) Salvador da Pátria, hatred of the left and the labor movement. But he cannot organize a mass party, nor uniform shock troops. There are no conditions either. for the time being, of establishing a fascist dictatorship, a totalitarian state, closing Parliament and outlawing trade unions and opposition parties.

Bolsonaro’s authoritarianism is manifested in his “treatment” of the pandemic, trying to impose, against Congress, state governments and his own ministers, a blind policy of refusing the minimum sanitary measures, indispensable to try to limit the dramatic consequences of the crisis (confinement, etc). His attitude also has traces of social-Darwinism (typical of fascism): survival of the fittest. If thousands of vulnerable people – the elderly, people with fragile health – die, that is the price to pay, after all, “Brazil cannot stop!”.

A specific aspect of Bolsonarist neo-fascism is its obscurantism, contempt for science, in alliance with its unconditional supporters, the most backward sectors of “evangelical” neo-Pentecostalism. This attitude, worthy of flat earthism, has no equivalent in other authoritarian regimes, even those whose ideology is religious fundamentalism, as is the case in Iran. Max Weber distinguished between religion, based on ethical principles, and magic, the belief in the supernatural powers of the priest. In the case of Bolsonaro and his neo-Pentecostal pastor friends (Malafala, Edir Macedo, etc.) it really is a matter of magic or superstition: stopping the epidemic with “prayers” and “fasting”…

Although Bolsonaro has not been able to impose the whole of his deadly program, a part of it – for example, a relaxation of confinement – ​​may be imposed, through unpredictable negotiations between the president and his ministers, military or civilian.

Despite the delusional behavior of the sinister character currently installed in the Palácio da Alvorada, and the threat he represents to public health, a significant portion of the Brazilian population still supports him, to a greater or lesser extent. According to recent polls, only 17% of voters who voted for him regretted their vote.

The fight of the Brazilian left and popular forces against neo-fascism is still in its infancy; it will take more than a few sympathetic saucepan protests to defeat this teratological political formation. Sure, sooner or later the Brazilian people will free themselves from this neo-fascist nightmare. But what will be the price to pay, until then?

Postscript: On April 20, Bolsonaro made a significant statement. He said that about “70% of the population will be infected by Covid-19, this is inevitable”. Of course, following the logic of “group immunization” (initial proposal by Trump and Boris Johnson, later abandoned), this could perhaps happen. But it would only be “inevitable” if Bolsonaro managed to impose his policy of refusing confinement measures: “Brazil cannot stop”.

What would the consequences be? The mortality rate of Covid 19 in Brazil is currently 7% of infected people. A small arithmetic calculation would lead to the following conclusion: (1) If 70% of the Brazilian population were contaminated, that would be 140 million people. (2) 7% mortality of 140 million is about 10 million. (3) If Bolsonaro managed to impose his orientation, the result would be ten million Brazilians dead.

This is called, in international criminal parlance, genocide. For an equivalent crime, several Nazi dignitaries were sentenced to hang by the Nuremberg Tribunal.

*Michael Lowy he is director of research, in France, at the Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

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